Cast Away [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (7th January 2008).
The Film

I recall upon its release there was a lot of buzz surrounding "Cast Away" predominantly focused on Tom Hanks, considering the performance he gave and the weight he lost for the second half of the film. Additionally it was an old and established concept that continues to intrigue, the idea of a man shipwrecked on a deserted island and the desire to survive and make it back to civilization. Many tales have been spun with this concept as a template both literary and cinematically (and TV as well). This time incredibly sentimental director Robert Zemeckis re-teams with his "Forrest Gump" (1994) star for the tale of a modern man who finds himself alone on a deserted island.
The appeal of the film is to see a man in this situation trying to survive and more importantly how he plans to get off the island and rejoin civilization, but from the get go it seems like Fox and Dreamworks released an ill conceived trailer advertising the movie that actually spoils the ending! That's right in the trailer itself you see that Chuck Nolan (the character played by Hanks) actually makes it off the freaking island. What a way to sell your film and get those butts into the theater seats. It was arguably the worst trailer ever but it didn't kill the film. It was a moderate hit and Hanks' Oscar nomination for 'Best Actor' certainly helped its box office late in the game.
"Cast Away" tells the story of FedEx systems engineer Chuck Nolan (Hanks), who on Christmas is called away on an urgent job. He says goodbye to his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) and promises he'll be right back (for New Year's Eve) but tragically his plane encounters turbulence and crashes in the Pacific. With a life raft as his only saving grace Chuck drifts off into the sea and finds himself shipwrecked on a deserted island which becomes his home for the next four years when one day he encounters a broken wall segment to a port-a-potty which would make a perfect sail for a raft that becomes his way off the island and back to the world and his love Kelly...only to find out she's moved on.
The film spans over four years and logistically appears like a scheduling nightmare with locations in Russia, The US, Fiji and the Philippines plus a year was taken off in the middle of production so that Hanks could loose 50 pounds and grow out his hair for the film's second half which takes place four years later. In the one-year downtime Zemeckis and his crew shot and released "What Lies Beneath" (2000) after that production ended they were back on the island finishing off this film.
On the outset it has the makings of a compelling film considering it deals with an old and established story concept, however your enjoyment of the film will depend on several things: 1) Whether you are a Tom Hanks fan 2) Whether you don't mind films that drag on for over 2 hours and 3) Whether you can tolerate occasional bouts of dialogue-free scenes. The film is basically 90% Hanks on camera trying to survive, so if you answered 'no' to the first selection then you'll probably hate this film, same goes if you answered 'no' to the second and third listed. In fact it does get a bit monotonous watching Hanks collect packages, make foot ware, attempt to make fire, hunt and so on. However his performance forgives the monotony of the situation, it truly is a fine turn as we see him progress into the fragile figure he becomes after four years and as he develops a relationship with a volleyball due to his isolation.
Furthermore the film's sparse soundtrack which includes hardly any score instead relying on the sound design to immerse the viewer in the film, the island noises immediately ground the viewer; this is also helped by the stunning cinematography which shows off the harsh beauty of the island and its surrounding sea.
The film however does have a lot of weaknesses, to begin with the blatant product placement was a distraction, FedEx being the obvious one (although it has become known that the company did not pay for the endorsement), Wilson sports goods is a other, after all the volleyball was called Wilson and Dr. Pepper among others that stand out. It makes sense to ground the characters in reality considering these products are real but the way in which they were used was kind of shameless.
The film's ending, I found, was incredibly sentimental and cheesy. The image of a man at a crossroads (literally) I guess is something you just come to expect from a filmmaker like Zemeckis, and of course the film's runtime can also be a deterrent as I found myself constantly checking the time to see how much was left before the end.
I suppose it's fair to say that some aspects of the film captured me, while others didn't. At the end of the day it's an ok film with a really strong performance and if you like Hanks enough then chances are you've probably already seen this film.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical widescreen ratio of 1.85:1 this high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p 24/fps and has been created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. From the beginning I was immediately shocked, the opening scenes of the film are incredibly noisy and feature dirt that pop up and white specks that plague the image, not a good way to start the film. As the film progressed after the initial few shots the image improved (I'm not sure why the opening shots looked so bad?) but the resulting transfer was fairly good. The image is sharp for the most part although a few soft shots appear here and there, detail is fine but not as solid as I would have expected in some close-ups, although wide shots on the island look brilliant. Colors are well balanced but I felt that the transfer was a little on the dark side.

Audio

Three audio tracks are presented on this release, an English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, as well as standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track, this film is pure production sound design and it's reflected here in the soundtrack. The mix is subtle but incredibly detailed considering the amounts of layered sound required for a film such as this, including wind, rain, ocean sounds, sand hitting objects, coconuts falling etc. Dialogue is solid and clear, and whenever score is used it makes good use of the sound space. Some aggressive moments like the plane crash comes of exceptionally well and feel dynamic.
Optional subtitles are included in English and Spanish.

Extras

A small handful of extras are included such as an audio commentary, a trivia track, the film's theatrical trailer plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary that includes director Robert Zemeckis, cinematographer Don Burgess, visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Carey Villegas and sound designer Randy Thom. This track is basically a series of interviews cut together, all of which are technical in nature. They all comment on their roles on the film and discuss elements such as the subtle effects created for the film mainly to keep the viewer immersed in the isolation of the island; this is also the case with the sound. The film's director, Zemeckis comments on splitting the film's production in half and shooting with a year break in the middle as wells as about the challenges of location shooting among other things. DP Burgess takes time to talk about the look of the film which is quite interesting. Overall it's a good track but has limited appear to the average movie-goer, fans of the film with an interest in the technical aspects of the production will likely get more out of it.

Next up is a Blu-ray exclusive extra, a trivia track that reveals production information as you watch the film.

Following that is the original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are bonus trailers for:

- "The Devil Wears Prada" which runs for 2 minutes 56 seconds.
- "Kingdom of Heaven" which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "Men of Honor" which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.
- "Night at the Museum" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Also featured is personal scene selections which allows you to book mark your favorite scenes.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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